Decorating with Succulents

Succulents are simply defined as plants with fleshy leaves or foliage which enable them to retain moisture in dry soils or arid conditions. They also happen to be one of the hottest trends in indoor décor which is why there is such a wonderful variety of Echeveria, Haworthia, cacti, Aeonium, Sedum, Kalanchoe, Crassula, Aloe and Sempervivum available at your local garden centre. What to do with that dazzling array of colourful succulents in regards to decorating your own home is a common problem; so I thought I would provide you with a few simple design ideas.

‘Tis the Season

Although succulents seem to be the epitome of summer there is no reason to put them away for Christmas. Let’s start with those stunning living wreaths which make any front door look like the entrance to Martha Stewart’s house; while they can be quite expensive, you have to appreciate that there are upwards of fifty young plants incorporated into many of these, so you get what you pay for. Another approach is to make your own, but just keep in mind that this should be done several months in advance to accommodate rooting. An easier project is to make a living candle holder and since it is not meant to hang on the wall, it can be done much closer to Christmas. A mixed planter is another fun seasonal project where you can show-off the brilliant blossoms of Christmas cactus against a backdrop of contrasting houseplant foliage or seasonal flowers such as cyclamen.

Succulent Wreath, Succulent Candle Holder, Christmas Cactus Arrangement.

The Vertical Element

Succulents may not seem like the best choice for hanging baskets or wall mounting but the effect just relies a little more on how you display them. While trailing plants such as Burro’s-Tail (Sedum morganianum) or String-of-Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) can be used to cascade over the edge of the container, many of the lower-laying succulents can be visually lost when displayed above head level. The trick here is to choose a wrought iron hanger with low sides so that all your plants are visible or when dealing with a traditional hanging basket, simply display it below shoulder level using a plant stand. Your other option is to consider a wall sconce, which is nice because it keeps watering mess to a minimum (unlike succulent tiles, which are difficult to display inside) and provides a nice shadowbox effect for the contrasting plant textures and foliage.

Orb Planter, Succulent Hanging Basket, Wall Sconce.

One Plant Wonders

It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that this group of plants holds many unique specimens which are worthy of solitary display in much the same way that one would present a piece of art in the home. Take the Black ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Black Raven’) for instance; this unique houseplant has new leaves that emerge green but eventually darken to a deep purplish-black. This stylish houseplant looks stunning in a grey, white or black ceramic container and has a reputation for being tough as nails. Large cacti are always unique character pieces but the Hairy Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ‘Snow’) is just a little more eye-catching than most with its mass of white woolly pads. Similarly, the often grafted Crested Elkhorn (Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’) is a unique structural plant with its heavily contorted crown and is best featured on its own in a bright exposure. Sometimes a feature plant is simply a colour variation of an old standard, such as the relatively new Red African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’ or ‘Royal Red’) which transforms a boring houseplant into a real ‘head-turner’.

Black ZZ Plant, Opuntia 'Snow', Crested Elkhorn, Red African Milk Tree.

Use Your Textures

Whether it’s the pink or dusty blue rosettes of Echeveria, the pleted foliage of Crassula ‘Watch Chain’ or even a tiny variegated Haworthia looking just like a miniature yucca – the strength of indoor succulents has always been a diversity of texture and colour. And while there might be some seasonal variation in colour intensity, the display is generally consistent all year round. Making use of that foliar contrast is what makes or breaks your mixed indoor planters, so take the time to lay out your display in advance and use equal care in choosing your planter, as how your succulents are displayed is just as important as how beautiful they look together. Thankfully the abundance of 2”-sized plants makes this exercise easy, as does the plethora of unique planters that include faux drawers, antiqued troughs, miniature urns and even tiered ‘cake stand’ containers.

Small and Solitary

Some succulents don’t work well in mixed planters, either due to their unique form (which deserves its own space) or their diminutive size. Living Stones (Lithops), Baby Toes (Fenestraria) and Split Rocks (Pleiospilos) all belong to the latter category, as they would be completely lost in an arrangement with larger succulents. These ground-hugging plants look best when displayed in small low bowls top-dressed with fine grit or ornamental sand where their unique forms can be appreciated. Similarly, the moon cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) is best appreciated on its own, as the garish top-grafts of red, purple, orange or bright gold would overwhelm a mixed arrangement. These mutants from South America lack the chlorophyll necessary to produce their own food, hence the reason they are grafted but this makes them a favourite among young gardeners. Lastly, sometimes we come across a unique planter that just needs that finishing touch like a small Haworthia that mimics a bold crop of spiky hair; of course, these ironic pieces don’t appeal to everyone but for those with a wry sense of humour they seem to fit right in.

Mixed tray of small succulents with Baby Toes (second row from bottom) and Split Rocks (top row), Moon cactus, Ironic sculpture with Haworthia hair.

And since it is the Christmas season, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that succulents can be the perfect gift for the man who has every tool under the sun but nothing to take care of. Perhaps an Echeveria planted in a vintage Texaco ceramic pot for that garage window or a shelf in the man cave. In any case, we would like to wish you and yours the best this holiday season from everyone at Amsterdam Garden Centre and we look forward to seeing you in the new year.


All Images Contained in this blog are Copyright to Mike Lascelle 2014-2019